Amsterdam prostitution is known around the world. The city has always been rather liberal in this respect. But this was never so because the Dutch are such big fans of paid sex. It really is a 'allow it so you can control it' approach.
This page sums up the types of Amsterdam prostitution that exist, from window prostitution in the Amsterdam Red Light District and luxury brothels to call girls, escort services and internet-based prostitution from home.
Prostitution is entirely legal in the Netherlands, and a whopping 73% of the Dutch say they have no problem with prostitution whatsoever. Still, even in Amsterdam it will perhaps never been seen as just another regular job. The average Dutch prostitute still hides her profession for most friends and relatives.
The most visible type of Amsterdam prostitution, the one that all the tourists go see, is window prostitution. There are 3 places with window prostitution in Amsterdam, but the bulk of the windows are in one place, namely the Wallen area in the actual Red Light District.
Girls sit behind windows dressed in fancy underwear only, smiling at the passing men to get them to step inside. If a man indicates interest, they will shortly negotiate what services are there for what price. The standard service is 15 minutes of oral sex and intercourse for 50 euros. This type of Amsterdam prostitution is typically for low-cost quickies.
The lights inside the rooms are red because women look at their best then - and because historically red lights have always been used to indicate to potential customers where the action is.
Window prostitution has a few big advantages for the girls: they are their own bosses, they don't have to pay a percentage of their earnings to a brothel owner (except a fairly high daily rent for their room) and they decide their own working hours. Even more important for them, there's an endless stream of clients passing by so they can make a lot of money in a working day.
The disadvantage is that they sit there for everybody to see, reason why some girls don't work in the city they live in. In any case, the majority of prostitutes aren't Dutch. These days, many of them are from Eastern Europe or South America. Working here may also be more dangerous than a club or brothel, since the girls are basically on their own. But often, a girl can call up the room owner or the police with one push on a button if needed.
The advantage for the clients is that basic sex is cheaper here than elsewhere (the standard price is 50 euros for oral and intercourse), and there are much more women to choose from. The disadvantage is that prostitutes in clubs etc. offer a wider range of services - the owners often make them do this. We know - it all sounds very economical. But in reality, Amsterdam prostitution is just that…
It's estimated that the bulk of prostitutes work in closed clubs and brothels - meaning that, unlike the window brothels, you can't look in from the streets. Men who go to a club can choose between a few girls if it's a small place, or a dozen girls if it's large. But the choice will be much more limited than with window prostitution. Closed brothels are often luxurious and the rooms have large beds and bathtubs.
Girls working there are often their own bosses, in a tax-legal sense. They pay usually about half of their earnings to the brothel owner. Often, they are under (subtle) pressure from the brothel owner to do things that girls behind the windows usually don't do, like kissing or anal sex.
A regular brothel (as opposed to a window brothel) or sex club has a more intimate atmosphere: many customers are regulars and are treated as such by the staff. They will hang around to drink and chat, too. Some famous Amsterdam brothels are Yab Yum (which has been closed by the city government, but this may be temporary) or Jan Bik. More on our other Amsterdam brothels page.
The difference between a brothel and an escort service (call girls), is that the escort service doesn't receive clients. Instead, a client can call them to have a girl sent to their home or hotel room. Typically, Amsterdam call girls are accompanied by a driver who's waiting outside. For the rest, most of the rules for brothels and clubs apply. Amsterdam has quite a lot of escort bureaus. Some Amsterdam call girls also work freelance.
This has almost vanished recently. In the past, the street behind Amsterdam Central Station was one place where car drivers could pick up street prostitutes. They were often illegal foreigners and drug addicts. This has largely dissapeared from the city.
In 1996, as part of their efforts to regulate Amsterdam prostitution, the Amsterdam city administration started an official street prostitution zone at the Theemsweg, ironically called the "municipal brothel" in the local press.
Street prostitution was allowed here, special car-size cubicles were built in which Amsterdam prostitutes could do their thing inside their client's cars, medical checkups and help were provided, and police was present to ensure the rule of law.
The municipal goals were to combat violence, exploitation and underage prostitution this way, and ensure safety and health for all involved.
However, these were not reached. Violence, underage prostitution and exploitation of women remained a problem. That's why the Theemsweg zone was closed in 2003.
Interestingly, after the closing of the Theemsweg, street prostitution did not increase again. It's estimated only 50 women a day work on the streets of Amsterdam. The internet might be responsible for this. There are online forums where women can advertise their services, including pictures, lists of do's and don'ts, and reviews. They do not need to go out on the streets anymore to meet customers. Many women who do this, are part-time prostitutes.
Attitudes towards prostitution in past centuries could be summed up as: "Allow it so you can control and regulate it." That's why the official ban on prostitution (that was never really effectuated) was ended in 1811.
However, opponents of the 'normalization' of prostitution succeeded in getting brothels (i.e. the pimp phenomenon) banned in 1911. In our times, attitudes are more like "Many of us find it personally immoral, but who are we to outlaw any type of sex between consenting adults?" Consequently, in 2000 brothels have been fully legalized as well.
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